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Posts Tagged ‘House Leroy’


Leroybookfrontcover

Here’s part of how I said “good bye” to Leroy.

When The Boy and I first moved to Milton Freewater we came under duress; our home in Portland had flooded and the landlord chose to do nothing–for a month. We lost everything, including our health. We came here because houses were cheap and the weather was dry. We came to start again.

But a funny thing happened. We acquired our House Leroy. It turned out that he, like me, had roots in the Valley. It turned out that we had complementary skills. It turned out that, against all odds, we became a family, in a town made for families. Those first summers The Boy had a whole neighborhood of kids to play with. Our little old house rang with shouts, laughter, and occasionally tears.

We had come to Milton Freewater to start over. What we discovered was that those old roots we had still had a little life in them. We took evening drives through pale evenings, past peach, pear, and apple orchards. I started doing a project for the local historical society. Those evening drives took on a timeless quality. Some evenings it almost felt like the road had carried us back to when we first drove it, back in the sixties, when summers were hot, corn came in the husks and often included ugly little worms, tomato fields and yes, strawberry fields, stretched forever.

VBcemetery

It was, for those few years, a life out of time. The Boy progressed through the school system. He competed in track. He played football. He played the tuba. Life wasn’t always easy–2008 happened, and 2009, and there were signs that the world was changing, but it was out there, beyond the borders of our town, and our lives. In our world, we went to football games and track meets and solo festivals and jazz festivals, and we drove through quiet evenings, and then we sat on the porch in the golden light, and talked, or listened, or just felt the breeze on our faces.

And then we lost the House Leroy, and it was just The Boy and me, and we tried, but we both knew that losing Leroy was a grievous wound. The timeless world in which we had lived had shattered beyond repair. Driving the old roads became too painful because the history that we had built, that connection to the past that had shielded us like a golden bubble, had shattered beyond repair.

frogs3smallThere were some bad days, months, years. We struggled. We developed coping mechanisms. I developed diabetes, sleep apnea, cancer. The Boy developed depression, anxiety, and cholinergic urticaria. But still, we coped. We still fought for every bit of joy we could find. But for me, there was the sense that we were on borrowed time.

And then came last December. The university where I teach, and where The Boy was finishing up his first degree, got hit with a cyberattack, just before finals week. And we coped. All of us on campus. Finals were re-vamped or canceled. Papers came in as hard copy, rather than uploads. Grades had to be entered when that part of the system was liberated. When winter term started we were still coping. And then halfway through the term, we had snow. Then we had a warm stretch, and all of the snow accumulated in the mountains came rushing down into the valley. Water was everywhere. The Boy, the cats, and I had to evacuate to a Travelodge. We took litter boxes, three changes of clothes for each of us, the gaming systems, the computers, our cell phones, and The Boy’s tux and tuba; he had a concert that weekend.

The Valley rallied. Schools shut down and high schoolers filled sandbags for frantic homeowners. People with big rigs helped people without. Local construction companies carried gravel to washed-out roads. We managed. When the cats, The Boy and I returned home it was to find that though homes at the bridge end of our street had had to be sandbagged, our little old house sat high and dry on its little hill. We breathed a sigh of relief and settled back into our home.

And then, just a few weeks after the flood, the Corona Virus reached Washington, and then Weston, a little town about fifteen miles away. The uncertainty has been hard. What’s happening? Will there be a vaccine or not? If we get sick, what do we do? Where do we go? How do we pay the mortgage? I work in the “gig” economy; I don’t have the luxury of sick leave or unemployment insurance. I have only what I earn.

Advice started. Wash your hands. Keep your distance. Closures started. Schools and businesses in California and Seattle. And then word came that our university was closing early. All finals would be administered online. Next term will start not on a busy, lively campus, but in silent rooms where teachers will speak to screens.

The Boy had his last concert–it was the swing band, and he had a solo and rocked it. He had his last presentation and rocked that, too. He’s graduating this term, but there will be no ceremony–just a quiet acknowledgment, and a quiet party at home.

When we came to Milton we slipped back in time for a few years. We lived in a beautiful, twilight eternity. And then the bubble cracked. We lost Leroy. The Boy and I got sick. The world around us got sick. Politics, which for a while allowed us Hope smacked it right out of us. It became a foul, cynical, vicious thing, a cruel joke, and endlessly, openly, corrupt.

Even for people like us, in quiet backwaters, the stench of our dead and rotting system has become unbearable. The cyberattack, the flood, and now the Corona Virus pandemic are all symptoms of a world breaking down around us. We have always had crises, but in the past we took pride in stepping up and meeting the challenge, not just endlessly spinning, spinning, spinning. We have reached the point where the center no longer holds, and where even our quiet lives have become unrecognizable.

We have a president who, rather than enabling our own world-class scientists and systems to work effectively in combatting the virus, tries to make it into a money-making opportunity. Though overwhelming numbers of us support Medicare for All–something the virus has shown is in all of our best interests–we are saddled with a Congress refusing to act on our wishes and in our best interests.

The only solution on offer is to wash your hands and hide in your house. The thing that should make all of us stronger–our national self, our friends, neighbors, towns–is the thing that might well sicken or kill many of us. I am washing my hands. I am hiding in my house. I’ve worked from home for decades, so I know the moves. But contracts are being canceled as events are canceled or postponed. If I lose too many more I’ll be in serious trouble.

So what’s the point of all this? No matter how this comes out, I think we have reached a watershed. Colleges and universities will go back in session. The companies that survive the closures will re-open their doors. Children will go back to school. But I think something has irrevocably changed.

That beautiful golden bubble? The bubble in which for a while we lived out of time? That’s gone. It’s not even shards on the floor. The pace and magnitude of crises are accelerating, spinning us ever onward to that moment of freefall. The past wasn’t perfect. But there were certain things upon which we felt we could rely. Those things are gone. The center has not held. Yeats may have been writing about events he was around him; he might have been writing about our times as well. If the beast has not yet reached Bethlem, he has certainly programmed it into his GPS, and is no longer slouching, but speeding through the night.

The Second Coming
By William Butler Yeats

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.
Surely some revelation is at hand;
Surely the Second Coming is at hand.
The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out
When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi
Troubles my sight: somewhere in sands of the desert
A shape with lion body and the head of a man,
A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,
Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it
Reel shadows of the indignant desert birds.
The darkness drops again; but now I know
That twenty centuries of stony sleep
Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?

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Let me tell you a few stories.

The year is 1996. I have just endured 25 hours of hard labor and given birth, only to discover–much to my dismay–that the pain does not magically end once the baby emerges. It seems unfair–I lie on the too-short bed, flat on my back. I ache everywhere. My son has been whisked away for housekeeping and testing. I have to go to the bathroom, but for some mysterious reason I must remain flat on my back. The logistics of emptying my bladder in this position without resorting to just flooding the bed and the room escape me. And then a woman in scrubs comes in and starts poking and prodding at my poor, abused, aching stomach. I am dazed. I am exhausted. The pain is indescribable. I don’t even think to object. But I don’t need to.

“I’m so sorry,” she says. “I know this hurts, but I have to do it. We have to be sure that everything has been expelled, or you could get an infection.”

And just like that, I go from being a quivering slab of bruised meat to being a person again.

***

Fast forward to 2001. I ride through the urgent care center a block from my house, traveling from the examination room to the x-ray room via stretcher. We have to go through the lobby. People in chairs stare at me accusingly, like they think I’m taunting them–“Ha ha–I’m getting care and you’re not.” But I don’t really care. My lungs ache and I can’t catch my breath. The doctor has just told me I have pneumonia. I’ve been sick for a while; I need a shower. My hair needs a wash.

And then, as the woman pushing my stretcher rolls me through the swinging doors out of the lobby and into the quiet back hallway, she says, “Your hair smells nice.”

And just like that, I go from being a lump of aches and mucus to being a person again.

***

Come with me once more, this time to the dark night a couple months ago when The Boy and I got home and found Leroy lying on the floor. We made the calls. The EMTs arrived, and then the police, and then the coroner. The house filled with people going about the shocking, quiet, confusing business of death. The Boy and I sat on the couch, and then moved to the porch, while all around us men in dark blue uniforms spoke in hushed tones and worked out the logistics of getting a stretcher through my small house and onto the back porch. The Boy and I sat, stunned. I can’t speak for him, but I know that for me no matter where I looked all I could see was Leroy, facedown, his hand curved defenselessly by his side. I knew the men in blue faced this sort of situation often, but for us it was shattering–the sort of thing for which there seems no real help.

But then it started.

“I know you,” said one of the EMTs. “I came to your house for a party.”

And the fog cleared a bit, and I saw his face, and knew he was right. He left me and went out on the porch to where The Boy sat. He squatted by the chair, put his hand on The Boy’s arm, said something quietly.

“Your son and my son played football together.” It was a policeman this time. And then he, too, went out to the porch, and I watched him talking to my son, reaching through the mists for him as he had done for me.

The coroner arrived. He asked the minimum of questions, gathering just enough information so we could do what we were all here to do–take care of Leroy.

The EMTs and the policemen gave me a last minute with Leroy, and then they put him on the stretcher and wheeled him out. And then that EMT, the man who had been to the party at my house, the man who had heard my address and known to say, “Oh, no,” to himself, came back inside carrying rags and cleaning supplies, and he tidied away the inevitable messiness of death, and then he swept the floor, cleaning up the cat food that Leroy had been getting for Nina when the lights went out.

They left us, but they left behind the shining gift of kindness, and final promises. “If you need anything, anything at all, even if you or The Boy just need someone to talk to, call us. We’ll help.”

As I said, this post has been a long time in the making, but it’s time. It’s time that I said “thank you” to these wonderful people who probably don’t even remember what they did, and if I reminded them would probably think I was making too much of it. “I was just doing my job,” they would probably say. “It was no big deal.”

It was a big deal to me. These moments have stuck with me not because these people were acting out of character, but because they were acting out of their characters–they saw my son and me as more than a job to be done–they saw our common humanity, and by their words and actions didn’t pull us out of that dark and frightening place–nothing could do that–but reminded us that we weren’t alone in that dark place. They gave us hands to hang onto. The nurse in the delivery room acknowledged that her actions–though necessary–caused me pain. The nurse in the urgent care center gave me back a bit of self-confidence–I might look a mess, but heck, my hair smelled nice. Those women reminded me that I, too, am a person. The police officers and the EMTs who came to our house the night Leroy died saw us as people. They saw my son and took care to check in and see how it was with him. They offered their ears, and their hands. They saw him as a boy who had just lost one of the most important people in his life, and they offered help not just that night, but for the future. We are not alone.

I could go on, but that’s all I really have to say. No matter how flawed our institutions are, they are also filled with people who see those of us they serve not as problems, but as people in pain that is all too often beyond fixing. And the wonder of it is that reach out, they offer what they can–words, a hand on the arm, a rag and cleaning supplies–not because they “should,” but because that is who they are. And they do it over and over.

So for all of you in the blue uniforms–and the scrubs–thank you.

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